Urban Forests: An Integral Part of City Planning

American Forests defines an urban forest as an “ecosystem composed of trees and other vegetation that provides cities and municipalities with environmental, economic and social benefits. An urban forest includes street and yard trees, vegetation within parks and along public right of ways, water systems, fish and wildlife”. These urban forests can help utilize vegetation as a significant part of a city’s infrastructure, taking advantage of vegetation’s many benefits and applying them to the city. The inclusion of urban forests is yet another potentially groundbreaking sustainable model; one that can significantly improve a city on numerous levels.
Cultivating an Urban Food Forest. Image via Inhabitat.

Cultivating an urban forest. Image via Inhabitat.

Benefits of Urban Forests

Although urban forests bring their fair share of challenges in terms of establishment and maintenance, cities greatly benefit from them in the end. If the urban forest is utilized to its greatest potential it can transform a city into something much more for its inhabitants.

Benefits of urban forests include:

  • At its most general, the urban forest simply improves the quality of life for citizens. The health of citizens and their psychological and physical wellbeing can be improved from the inclusion of urban forests.
  • They provide recreational opportunities including exercise, relaxation, and other similar activities. All of these activities have a positive effect on the wellbeing of citizens, and can help foster a sense of community among citizens. As a result, groups can help further the development of a positive city, spurring improvements for the residents and the environment around.
  • They help improve the environmental quality of the city. Urban forests can help reduce the use of energy and emissions of carbon dioxide. Forests can help improve air quality, meaning that cities as a result can be much healthier place to live.  They also can help improve urban hydrology, and as a result can reduce run-off, improve water quality, and reduce storm water treatment costs.
  • The ecological benefits are plentiful. Urban forests attract wildlife, which is favored by many residents. Urban forests also contribute to the conservation of soil, as well as help foster and preserve biodiversity. Biodiversity has numerous benefits such as providing a better quality of life for residents.
  • They also help provide economic benefits. Areas located near or within urban forests often have greater real estate value, attracting potential buyers and providing sellers with a more lucrative payoff for selling a house. While the evidence of the benefits are elusive, urban forests may also help improve the local economy of a city.
Cheesman Park, Denver.  Image via Americanforests.org

Cheesman Park, Denver. Image via Americanforests.org

Protection and Maintenance For Urban Forests

Since urban forests are developed by human beings, their proper maintenance is essential for any city. It’s important to have a plan in some form (such as an agenda) that aims to make sure an urban forest is healthy, beneficial, and utilized to its full positive potential. A well-planned direction solves potential issues that come with development and the aftermath of maintaining an urban forest.  It’s essential to have such a plan, as it provides protection and the chance for an urban forest to thrive.

Here are some excellent examples of urban forest plans from US cities:

While individual cities have their own unique plans, the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council was established in 1990, to address and solve issues that threaten the wellbeing of urban forests. The NUCFAC is an appointed advisory council, one that establishes ties with the Secretary of Agriculture. Aside from providing invaluable protection and damage prevention, the council offers grants, policy, and other government resources for urban forests.

Notable Urban Forests

American Forests unveiled their top ten cities for urban forests. These ten cities are all stellar examples that can serve as a model for other cities. Cities include Portland, Denver, Seattle, and Austin.

Beacon Food Forest plan. Image via Beaconfoodforest.org

Seattle has also established a special kind of urban forest in the form of a food forest. Known as the Beacon Food Forest, this urban forest aims to bring local organic food to the community. Their goal is to “design, plant and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires our community to gather together, grow our own food and rehabilitate our local ecosystem.” The food forest has multiple areas including a community garden, and various spaces used for growing and distributing local food for several uses.
Feature image: Portland, Oregon. Image via Americanforests.org

About The Author

Alex Ageno earned his degree in Urban Planning in 2013 from Arizona State University. Alex's interests in Urban Planning include Urban Design, Sustainability, Form Based Codes, Zoning, and Environmental Planning. He resides in Arizona.